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A Simple Way To Shoot Exactly The Right Brackets For Exposure Fusion

Published: 18/10/2012
By: larry

A couple of weeks ago in a post on shooting brackets I referred to what I call the  Michael Freeman manual method of shooting brackets. Michael describes it in his HDR book. I think this is important for people just starting out that want to learn how to be sure to capture the whole dynamic range in a scene with a set of brackets. I don't advocate processing the brackets with HDR. I think Exposure Fusion (EF) makes more sense for interiors. There's no special equipment required for this process and you don't have to have a DSLR that can shoot 5 or 7 or 9 brackets. You just do it manually.

Here's how it works: A key feature your DSLR requires is the ability to display a exposure histogram on the DSLR's LCD. Most modern DSLRs have this. The images to the right are from my LCD. The top one is the starting point (first bracket) and the bottom is from end point (last bracket). I'm using a 5DMKII with the brightness histogram on and in LiveView. Here are the steps:

  1. Lock the body down on a sturdy tripod.
  2. Set the camera in manual mode and set the aperture. I'm using f/5.6.
  3. Use the lowest ISO you have. I'm using ISO 100.
  4. As you move the little wheel (on Canon bodies this is the wheel just behind the shutter release that speeds up the shutter speed the histogram will move to the left. Keep moving it left until the histogram just barely touches the top of the histogram scale. Take the first bracket.
  5. Move the wheel that controls shutter speed so the histogram starts to move to the right. On every DSLR I've seen each click on the thumb wheel is 1/3 of a stop. So go three clicks for every stop you want to have between brackets. Michael recommends 2 stops between each bracket but I know some will swear it should be 1 stop.
  6. Keep going shooting a bracket every stop until the histogram crawls up the right side and just starts two touch the top. Take the last bracket. Now you've captured the entire dynamic range of the scene exactly.

I should remind you that while you are doing all this care should be taken not to move the camera in any way. What I do is use a remote shutter release in one hand so I don't have to touch the camera for releasing the shutter and roll the shutter thumb wheel with my other hand. I find this process is very reliable, fast and easy to use.

30 comments on “A Simple Way To Shoot Exactly The Right Brackets For Exposure Fusion”

  1. Does this method not result in different numbers of shots for different rooms and so mean that batch processing is difficult ?

  2. Ian - with a prograrm like HDR Expose 2 from United Color batches recognize the number of photos in each bracket series.
    Jason - using the autobrackets on the camera - you are not sure if you actually are shooting the correct exposure or the correct number of exposures - this method corrects for the highlights and shadows - we use a different method that exposes highlights and shadows and then use a promote control to set up and capture the brackets (in any combination of stops).
    Larry - thanks for reminding people of this method. Once mastered- exposure fusion is great for Real Estate Photography.

  3. @Aric- On my D300 I just shoot seven brackets using the AEB. Then when your home you know you have the entire needed range and can pick the 3 you want to blend.

  4. @Jason- Some times if there are very big, bright windows you need or want more than the typical 3 frames the AEB can shoot. This technique allows you to manually shoot as many brackets as you want.

    @Aric- Yea, as Mark points out the D300 is famous with bracketeers for being able to shoot more than the typical 3 AEB frames.

    @Ian- Yes, that's a good point if you are using a batch processor that like the same number of frames for each process it will make you life easier if you always shoot the same number of brackets... even if it's more than you for some shoots.

  5. Is there a down side of processing batches having brackets that go to far one way or the other?

  6. Interesting, I really need to learn how to do this to save some time. I have done HDR in my camera and in PP.
    However I need to develop those dreaming perfect interiors. I am not sure were you do this in your camera. I am guessing in the bracketing area and not the exposure one that you can take 3 photos at one time +- EV.
    I did try the bracketing were you can take 9 photos but I felt like I was just keeping the same photo and every time I took a brighter picture it overlapped or canceled the last photo with the new light. How do you keep the dark areas from not going away as needed? Compared to a blasting white window and a dark room? I did a house yesterday that had dark colors and wood finishes against six large windows. Windows were blown out and I used layers to cut and paste in my windows.
    Bracketing sounds like a way to elimitate layers, but I am not sure how you are doing it...
    After you go through all of your stops, is the last picture balanced with the light?

    Thanks for you help and this website.

  7. I may be showing my inexperience and I own a Canon Rebel xsi 450D
    -I noticed a couple of settings in the camera menu not mentioned after locking the camera down on tripod. Settings like RAW, continuous shooting, AWB (I know auto white balance) and auto focus. I understand setting the camera in manual mode and adjusting the Aperture, ISO, using live view and the histogram scale.
    My questions are:
    I am assuming the quality mode of “RAW” is for the post processing capabilities. I have never used that setting. I have a strong feeling that I will be advised to start if I want to be successful in this business…Correct?
    For this method always use AWB?
    My camera in live view can only be used in Manual Focus. Would I be better off staying away from manual bracketing or practice a lot not to move the camera? I do have a bracket setting with 3 exposures. I have played around with that setting never tried live view at the same time. Don’t think it’s possible without the ability to set in AF.
    You know what I have answered my on questions. I need to bite the bullet and get a full frame model with the proper lenses and not have to deal with these issues.

  8. Kathy,
    I'm not sure about your settings not being available while on a tripod. I've never heard of that.
    As far as using RAW, it's a good idea. As long as you have the room on your memory cards, there really is no reason not too. It will give you more flexibility in processing.
    AWB, yes. Especially if shooting RAW, you don't need each shot to be exact. With RAW files you can do white balance in post processing as well.
    I wouldn't say this is a reason to go full frame, there are plenty of DX cameras that work very well. My D300 may only be worth about $600 now, but it's made me a lot of money and was the camera I started my business with. I'm sure Canon has a similar model.

  9. @Kathy- I didn't go through all camera settings because I wanted to focus on the shooting brackets part. Here is a short answer to several of your questions:
    -There's not much reason to always shoot RAW it gives you the most options in post processing.
    -Auto WB is the way to go, you can always make adjustments in post if needed
    -Auto focus works fine... with interiors shooting with a wide angle a few feet to infinity is in focus.
    -This technique has no learning curve... it's very easy

  10. Maybe a dumb questions,
    what do you do with all the bracked exposures you took? What do you use in post processing to layer them? Are you using HDR or Blend? How do you use all the photos?


  11. If you're using LR/Enfuse for your processing, you can just stack the images in each series and it will process them, no matter how many are in the stack. I with other software would consider a stack of images in batch processing, but LR/Enfuse is my go to anyways.

  12. Thanks Shawn,
    I am not using Light room, I am using Corel Paint Shop Pro X4. I will hunt and see if it is in there. It has HDR and some other features. But I don't think we are talking about HDR.


  13. The way the article has explained is how I do my bracketed exposures on my Canon 40D. But I also first set it up as AEB to shoot +1/0/-1. Then in Live View, I place the right most AEB mark in the middle of the exposure index and shoot off three pictures. And then I move the left most AEB mark on the same middle exposure index mark and shoot off another three. What I get is five images 1 stop apart (there are 2 for the middle of which I throw out one). This method allows for a lot less touching the camera versus turning the dial 5 times. Plus, with shooting the AEB in Live Mode, there's no mirror shake.

  14. This is a tiny nit pick... The author states he uses a Canon. The thumb wheel on Canon controls aperture not shutter speed. So the enumerated section must be written by a Nikon shooter.

  15. @Will- Yea, I should have said "index finger wheel" because the wheel is on the top right just behind the shutter release. Technically the "Thumb wheel" is on that back and controls aperture.

    Fact is, I call them all "Thumb wheels" whether I use my thumb or not. I will try to talk more precisely.

  16. Yesterday I had a shoot of a home that I was told faces east,(which the realtor never checked) and was requested to be there at 9:00. When I arrived the home was facing west, and the sun was behind the house and shinning directly into my camera. I added my -2 stop graduated filter, and fill flash, but the house still looked terrible. I then tried shooting manually bracketed about 1 1/3 stop exposures and used L/R Enfuse. This truly saved my butt and gave me a truly acceptable image.

    Thanks for all the great advice on HDR. and Enfuse

  17. @Kevin- On a 5DMKii, Press Menu button, scroll to the 4th menu from the far right, scroll down to histogram, select it, scroll to brightness and select.

  18. Live view is a nice feature, however when I bracket I like to chose a neutral point in the room as my starting point for proper EV. Then I set up a series of shots +4, to -4 off of that neutral point. I find this a lot more accurate and time saving than metering off of what's in front of the camera. Occasionally, I'll pop off a shot or two -5 or -6 EV in the case of direct sun beaming in. Then process using LREnfuse.

  19. To allow batch processing, here's how I keep all groups at six exposures. For interior scenes that include windows I bracket -5 -3 -1 +1 +3 +5. For interior scenes without windows I bracket -3 -2 -1 +1 +2 +3. Is this similar to what others do?
    I use manual exposure, set my aperture to f. 11 or f. 16 and use the thumbwheel on my Canon to adjust the shutter speed to obtain the different EVs starting with either -5 or -3 as appropriate.

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